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An outline for a most equitable public bus transport model

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There had been estimates from long that the city needed far more buses than the BMTC was operating, and it was also known that the need was being partially met by the private operators. But, nobody knew that between the private operators and the schools, there were over 6 times the numbers operated by BMTC. Kudos to Citizen Matters for bringing out these numbers - check here.
 
So, all in all, there are close to 50,000 buses on the city roads, apart from the 'multi-coloured buses'(mostly TamilNadu registered), and the inter-city operations. But, the fact of the matter is that, constrained as the private operators are because of being licenced under the most restrictive Contract Carriage Act (check here), their fleet is totally under-utilised.  
 
The reality however is also that if the entire lot of 50K buses is deployed intelligently, a large part of the public transport needs of the city can very easily be met. Now, most certainly, a totally government-owned and thereby incapacitated BMTC can't do it, and, being a public utility area, you can't possibly leave it totally to the private sector either. In such a scenario, why not combine the best of both the worlds, and have a most equitable PPP model, more or less on the lines of the most successful Delhi power supply set-up (check here), which even an Arvind Kejriwal seems to have embraced? Quite like in the Delhi power supply model, you can have three or four (or even more) reputed players, covering the whole of the city, while also catering to the diffrenent types of needs, all under the watchful eye of the UMTA (preferably reporting to a directly-elected Mayor, as envisaged in the B S Patil Committee report), who besides decides the fare structure, providing for a nominal 10% "return on equity".
 
With improved efficiency, and UMTA in the picture in arriving at decisions, the fare structure can be much lower than that of BMTC's, currently. If the government wants to afford further subsidies to select sections of the population, they can do so through DBT (as in the case of domestic gas supplies), rather than burdening the operator.
 
If such a scheme is put in place, most present car and two-wheeler users will readily switch to public transport, at least for their work-day commute, and if simultaneously congestion and parking charges are introduced (resistance to which will be much lower now), the travel can become faster too.
 
The bus, being the most versatile of all public transport modes, will this way account for a huge share of the 'trips' made in a city. But, of course, when the city expands to the extent Bengaluru has done, you will need the METRO too, which is easily the best option for long intra-city travel.
 
PS: The above was originally posted here. Deciding that it needs more specific attention, I have opened this new blog. Hope it will gather more interest now.
 
Muralidhar Rao

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murali772's picture

Response to invite for comments on draft Comprehensive Mobility

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11 users have liked, including you.
Dear Sirs/ Madams (cmpcomments@bmrc.co.in)
 
What is striking to me is the lack of even a mention of a role for private sector in the operation of bus services, even as the totally government owned and thereby incapacitated BMTC is hard put to meet the burgeoning and varied kinds of demands. It is even more incongruent considering the repeat claims by the government of pursuing the dictum of "less government; more governance".
 
The NUTP @ 12.3; @ 13.3.1 "Association of the Private Sector", states as below:
 
There are several UT activities in which the private sector can be beneficially involved, thereby saving financial resources for activities that only public agencies can best perform. However, these have to be done under conditions that strike a fair balance between the universal obligatons of the government and the profit motive of the private operator. The government of India would encourage a more liberal involvement of the private sector in activities such as operations and maintainance of parking facilities, certification facilities, repair facilities, construction and management of terminal facilities. Till mid 1980's most bus services were provided by publicly owned state corporations. Since then, however, some states have permitted privately run bus services. While public operations have tended to be high cost and most state transport corporations have run up heavy losses, the reliability and safety record of inadequately regulated private operators has been poor. On balance, the government of India would encourage the state governments to involve the private sector in providing PT services, under well structured procurement contracts.
 
As compared to that, the draft plan, talks only of "PPP" in "infrastructure", but has totally omitted any talk of a role for private sector in public bus service operations. It may also be mentioned here that well before 1980's, bus services were being provided by the private sector in many cities (the outstanding example being of TVS in the city of Madurai), before the government most unwisely chose to nationalise the services. 
 
Even currently, going by a "Citizen Matters" report (check here), there are well over 40,000 buses being operated on Bangalore roads, by various private players and schools, apart from the 'multi-coloured buses'(mostly TamilNadu registered), and the inter-city operations, ie over 6 times the numbers operated by BMTC. But, the fact of the matter is that, constrained as the private operators are because of being licensed under the most restrictive Contract Carriage Act, their fleet is totally under-utilised.  
 
The reality however is that if the entire lot of 50K buses is deployed intelligently, a large part of the public transport needs of the city can very easily be met. Now, most certainly, a totally government-owned and thereby incapacitated BMTC can't do it, and, being a public utility area, you can't possibly leave it totally to the private sector either. In such a scenario, why not combine the best of both the worlds, and have a most equitable PPP model, more or less on the lines of the most successful Delhi power supply set-up (check here), which even an Arvind Kejriwal seems to have embraced? Quite like in the Delhi power supply model, you can have three or four reputed players (holding 51 % stake, or better still 74%, and govt holding the rest), covering the whole of the city, while also catering to the different types of needs, all under the watchful eye of the UMTA (ideally reporting to a directly-elected Mayor, as envisaged in the B S Patil Committee report), who besides decides the fare structure, providing for a nominal 10% "return on equity".
 
With improved efficiency, and UMTA in the picture in arriving at decisions, the fare structure can be much lower than that of BMTC's, currently. If the government wants to afford further subsidies to select sections of the population, they can do so through DBT (as in the case of domestic gas supplies), rather than burdening the operator.
 
If such a scheme is put in place, most present car and two-wheeler users will readily switch to public transport, at least for their work-day commute, and if simultaneously congestion and parking charges are introduced (resistance to which will be much lower now), the travel can become faster too.
 
The bus, being the most versatile of all public transport modes, will this way account for a huge share of the 'trips' made in a city. But, of course, when the city expands to the extent Bengaluru has done, you will need the METRO too, which is easily the best option for long intra-city travel.
 
All of the above will lead to huge reductions in funds needed for acquiring new buses (private players will bring in most of it), building BRTS (best avoided totally), building Elevated Corridors (need be taken up very selectively, where essential), which funds can then be profitably deployed for extending Namma Metro and Namma Railu services.  
 
And, while the above can take a bit of a time to put in place and made operational, what can be done right away is to licence bus aggregators like Shuttl properly, resulting de-congestion from which will start showing in days through reduced usage of cars for the work-day commute.
 
Muralidhar Rao

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